The NFL is back for the 2021 season, and Week 1 quarterback play brought a mixed bag of exactly what you would have expected and wild surprises. Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson picked up where they left off in wins, and Matthew Stafford shined for his new team. Jameis Winston had a strong showing in his first start in the Saints’ post-Drew Brees era, and Kyler Murray wowed with some incredible throws against the Titans. But it’s just one week, so there were some oddities too. Just look at Total QBR. Of 31 quarterbacks who qualified, Teddy Bridgewater ranks first … and Aaron Rodgers is last.
On a weekly basis throughout the season, I will rate my current confidence in each quarterback’s play. Who is unstoppable and in the MVP conversation? Who is struggling and needs to find consistency? Who is rising, and who is falling, after each week’s game slate? Which rookies are exceeding expectations, and which veterans are leading their offenses to playoff contention? And remember, this is based on the present, not future potential.
True backups will not be included, though teams with multiple legitimate starting options might have multiple QBs listed in the rankings. The list will be accompanied each week with some of the biggest takeaways and lingering thoughts from the recent performances under center, including what both the tape and numbers say about some of the game’s starting quarterbacks. Here are this week’s QB rankings and some notes regarding the position.
Last updated: Sept. 15
Tannenbaum’s current QB rankings
Biggest takeaways from Week 1
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is still in my top three after a dismal day in Week 1 — 15-of-28 for 133 yards, zero TDs and two interceptions — for a simple reason. He has back-to-back NFC championship game appearances and is the reigning MVP. I think he gets a week’s pass. But I can’t say I’ll be that lenient if he has another poor performance, which is unexpected against a Jeff Okudah-less Lions defense.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts was one of the biggest surprises of the opening week, and a big part of the credit should go to how great his tackles — Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata — played. They gave Hurts a clean pocket in which to operate, and the line’s pass block win rate for the week was No. 2 in the NFL at 75%.
The game seemed to slow down for Jameis Winston of the New Orleans Saints. I thought he played with poise, accuracy and outstanding eye level, and he took shots when appropriate. I’m excited to see where this offense goes with him under center. His 92.5 Total QBR ranked second in the league this week.
Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals gained ground in my mind this week, ranking No. 12 on my board. Throwing four touchdown passes and averaging 9.03 yards per attempt is an exceptional start to the season. He looked more explosive in his movements and like he benefitted from another offseason of getting stronger. Murray threw with accuracy and anticipation all afternoon. Receiver Christian Kirk was targeted five times with five completions, and Murray’s throw early in the game to A.J. Green set the tempo with tremendous accuracy and velocity. Kirk, Green and DeAndre Hopkins will be hard to defend against, especially with Rondale Moore sprinkled into the mix. Murray’s trajectory is exceedingly high right now.
I was concerned when Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott was limited in training camp and didn’t get any preseason game action. But he proved me wrong. I was truly shocked by his outstanding performance and the fact that he threw 58 passes.
I like Taylor Heinicke of Washington, and I expect him to play well. He was really effective against Tampa Bay in the playoffs last year. But losing Ryan Fitzpatrick to a hip injury hurts. I have Heinicke ranked No. 32, but Fitzpatrick would have slid in around No. 21 if he were healthy. And if I were in Washington’s shoes, I would sign Cam Newton. There are still 16 more games, and even though I’m confident in Heinicke and that he would start even with Newton in uniform, signing the veteran is necessary insurance.
Did you all watch Patrick Mahomes‘ comeback for the Kansas City Chiefs? A big reason he was so successful in leading them back was his chemistry with his top two receivers. When targeting receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, Mahomes was 17-of-22 for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Wow, did the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson impress on downfield throws in Week 1. He was 5-of-7 for 159 yards and 3 TDs on throws 15-plus yards downfield. Teams are going to have to keep the speedy Seattle receivers in front of them to have any chance of slowing the Seahawks’ offense.
Rookie New England Patriots QB Mac Jones had one of the best throws of the week. On a third-and-6 with just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, he hung in against a very good Dolphins pass rush and converted with a pass to Jakobi Meyers. Overall, Jones was 11-of-16 on third down in a very encouraging start for him.
Other rookies didn’t have as much success. The game seemed fast for Jacksonville Jaguars starter Trevor Lawrence at times, and I was disappointed in some of the decision-making that led to his three interceptions. On one of them, he didn’t seem to realize Houston was in a zone look. Lawrence clearly has a long way to go in understanding how NFL defenses will attack him. And Zach Wilson of the New York Jets improved significantly as the game went on, showing accuracy and arm strength in the second half. But I’m very concerned about the Jets’ offensive line, a unit that was struggling even before offensive tackle Mekhi Becton got hurt (dislocated knee cap). Wilson’s mobility will help, but the Jets’ poor OL play continues to be a problem.
C’mon, Matt Nagy, let’s go! Chicago Bears rookie Justin Fields is the better QB over Andy Dalton and should be playing. (I ranked Fields two spots ahead of Dalton this week.) We saw his physical ability with his TD run and his skill set as a thrower is dramatically better, too. It’s disappointing that he’s not playing more. But in the case of the San Francisco 49ers, we need to be patient with Trey Lance. I thought Jimmy Garoppolo played really well, and I like the packages they’re creating for Lance. It will give him confidence and the necessary experience he needs to eventually take over.
Why was Miami Dolphins starter Tua Tagovailoa way down at No. 30? I need to see more. He made a really nice throw to DeVante Parker on the sideline to his right at one point, showing a glimpse of what he can do when he’s at his best. But his lack of mobility showed up on his interception, and I just don’t see a high ceiling for Tagovailoa.
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